CAIRO – A group of Muslim volunteers gathered on Saturday night to offer a hot meal for some of South Australia’s most marginalized homeless people.
“I got emotional a number of times throughout the night,” volunteer Zahra Fathi told Sunday Mail.
“All these people walked in with huge smiles on their faces; they were genuinely happy and it seemed like they enjoyed talking with people as much as they enjoyed the meal.
“They were so friendly and patient and so appreciative – I absolutely loved it.”
Fathi is one of 15 young men and women who volunteered after seeing a call-out on Facebook through the Building Bridges program, a Catholic initiative aimed at fostering friendship and understanding with Muslims.
The Muslim volunteers’ participation came as a part of nearly three-decade effort at the Collective of St Mary Magdalene Drop-in Centre, in Moore St, city.
They provide all the ingredients, cook the meal and sit down to share it with strangers.
On other weekends, the meals might be provided by medical students, lawyers, Catholic parishes or school students from the likes of Seymour, Concordia and St Peter’s Girls.
“The people who come in for a free meal are our patrons and we want them to be treated like they’ve been invited to a dinner party,” says the collective’s 27-year-old chairwoman, Alexandra Christopher.
“Of course, it can be a bit confronting sometimes, but it’s a really special experience – it’s one of the few places where all social barriers are broken down and everyone is equal.
“And when you look closer, these people actually have a beautiful community, they look out for one another.”
Each weekend, volunteers offer three-course meals to between 70 and 100 homeless people.
“I’m very strong in my faith – I wear the hijab. I love Adelaide. It was good to give something back and help others who are less fortunate and marginalized,” Zahra Fathi, who immigrated to Australia with her family when she was a toddler, said.
As a Muslim woman in South Australia, Zahra said rarely feel marginalized.
“I work at Kmart while I’m studying to be a teacher and some of the customers can be impolite when they first see me in my hijab.
“I disregard the bad things they say, keep smiling and eventually they become nice. Often, they’ll make a point of coming over and saying ‘Hello’ next time.
“I love and appreciate that in Adelaide, most people understand.”